Known now perhaps more for its monarch butterflies than its marble hall, the U.S. Custom House is one of the most important and historic federal buildings in the southern United States.
Construction of the granite monolith, at the corner of Canal and N. Peters streets, began in 1848 and took 33 years to complete. The 326,000-sq. foot building was originally designed by Alexander Wood and was meant to be a “plain and substantial building.” The imposing structure makes an impression inside and out, with its Greek and Egyptian revival architecture and an impressive room called the Marble Hall, which features Corinthian columns and depictions of myths and gods.
The building was commissioned after the U.S. Custom House designed by famous architect Benjamin Latrobe and completed in 1809 began crumbling because of its poor foundation. A newer, larger building was also needed as New Orleans emerged as one the nation’s largest ports.
Construction of the building was suspended during the Civil War, but was used during the war, including as a Union headquarters. The building was renovated in 1915, and again in 1975 and 1993. The later renovation restored the space to the its original appearance.
The first floor of the building is leased to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, but other sections of the building are in use by U.S. Customs.